Bishops Say Mandate Fight Is About Government Defining Religion

By Michelle Bauman

-- The U.S. bishops are emphasizing that their opposition to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate is not about birth control or health care, but about the government’s attempt to impose its narrow definition of religion on the country. 


“Indeed, this is not about the Church wanting to force anybody to do anything,” said the administrative committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a March 14 statement.

Instead, they explained, it is “about the federal government forcing the Church – consisting of its faithful and all but a few of its institutions – to act against Church teachings.”

The bishops stated that the debate is not about the Church trying to ban access to contraception, which is already “ubiquitous and inexpensive.”

The HHS mandate controversy involves more than Catholics, they said, pointing out that it includes everyone who realizes that their beliefs may be the next target of government coercion.

They added that the debate is not a matter of political parties, nor is it “a matter of opposition to universal health care,” which the bishops have supported in some form since 1919. 

Rather, the mandate is an “unwarranted” and “unprecedented” attempt by the government to redefine “who we are as people of faith and what constitutes our ministry.”

The bishops reiterated their call for the repeal of the federal HHS mandate that will require private health care plans across the country to offer coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs, even if doing so violates the consciences of those involved in providing the plan.

They explained that the mandate raises serious concerns about religious freedom that are not calmed by an extremely narrow exemption for religious organizations or by an “unspecified and dubious” promise of a future “accommodation” for other religious employers. 

“Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry,” the bishops said.

They decried the administration’s attempt to draw a new distinction between “houses of worship” and “ministries of service,” explaining that this distinction creates a “second class” of citizens that are deemed unworthy to share in the “God-given, legally-recognized right” to be able to follow their beliefs.

They also warned that this redefinition of religion will spread throughout other areas of federal law, “weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity.”

In addition, the bishops explained, the mandate to violate Church teaching is an infringement upon the “personal civil rights” of those individuals who seek to act in accordance with their faith and moral values.

They stated that the regulation lacks even “the semblance of an exemption” to address the concerns of individual insurers who object to offering the coverage, employers who object to sponsoring it or employees who object to paying for it in their premiums.

The Catholic bishops said they are “strongly unified and intensely focused” on pursuing multiple avenues to defend religious liberty.  

In addition to continuing efforts aimed at education and public advocacy, the bishops emphasized their willingness to “accept any invitation to dialogue with the Executive Branch.”

They also said that they are supporting legislation to restore religious freedom protections and will continue to explore “options for relief from the courts.”

They noted that the conference’s Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty will soon publish a document reflecting on the history of religious freedom in America, appraising a broad range of current threats to religious liberty and reinforcing the bishops’ clear intent to work with their fellow citizens in defending the fundamental pillar of American freedom.  

The bishops thanked all of those men and women of various religions and professions who have stood united with them in the fight for religious freedom.

They called for additional “prayer and penance” from Catholics and “all people of faith” for the protection of religious liberty.

“Prayer is the ultimate source of our strength,” they said, “for without God, we can do nothing; but with God, all things are possible.”

The bishops' full statement.

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